John Paul II on Karol Wojtyla as Bishop

Book Tells Human Side of a Divine Calling

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by Delia Gallagher

ROME, JUNE 10, 2004 ( John Paul II’s latest book, «Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way,» recently published in Italian, will be published this September in a U.S. version.

The book is dedicated to fellow bishops and priests, to whom the title (from Jesus’ words to his apostles in Gethsemane) is particularly addressed, and consists of the Pope’s memories of his time as bishop in Krakow, beginning with his nomination in 1958.

On July 4, 1958, Father Karol Wojtyla was on a canoe trip with his friends in Masuria, Poland. He received word from Warsaw that he must return for an urgent meeting with Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.

«So, I started back,» writes the Pope, «first on the waves of the river with the canoe and then on a truck full of flour sacks.

«The train for Warsaw left late at night. I had brought a sleeping bag with me, thinking I would catch a nap in the station while waiting for the train: Someone, whom I had asked, was to wake me. As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary because I didn’t sleep at all.»

An anxious Father Wojtyla, who had then been a priest for only 12 years, was told by the cardinal in Warsaw that he had been nominated auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

After lunch with the cardinal, John Paul II writes, he had hoped to go back to join his friends on the canoe trip. First, however, he had to go to Krakow to see the acting archbishop.

Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak introduced his new auxiliary to the priests of the diocese with a prophetic greeting, «Habemus papam.»

Finally, Father Wojtyla asked to be allowed to return to his camp on the river Lyna.

«Perhaps it is no longer fitting for you!» the archbishop told him.

«Rather saddened by that answer,» the Pope writes, «I went to the Franciscan church and did the Via Crucis … then I returned to Archbishop Baziak and renewed my request: «I understand your concern, Your Excellency. Nonetheless, I ask that you allow me to go back to Masuria.»

The archbishop let him go, warning his new auxiliary to return in time for his consecration.

«That night, I boarded the train direct to Olsztyn,» writes the Pope, «I had with me Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ I spent the whole night reading it, able to take it in only bit by bit. I felt rather strange.»

He continues: «When I got back to the canoe and began rowing, I once again felt a little strange. The coincidence of the date had struck me: I was notified of my nomination on July 4, and that was the day of the consecration of the Cathedral of Wawel. This anniversary has always had a great resonance in my soul. It seemed to me that the coincidence meant something.»

«I also thought that it would perhaps be the last time I could go canoeing,» the Pope writes.

«In reality, I must note, that there were many other occasions for rowing, renewing my strength, in the waters of the rivers and lakes of Masuria. Practically, until 1978.»

In 1978, of course, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II.

In his book, the Pope intersperses personal anecdotes with reflection and instruction for priests and bishops.

«It can be said that a diocese reflects the way of being of its bishop,» writes the Pope, «his virtues — chastity, the practice of poverty, the spirit of prayer, simplicity, the sensitivity of his conscience — are in a certain sense written in the hearts of his priests. They, in turn, transmit such values to the faithful entrusted to them and it is thus that young people are led to give a generous response to the call of Christ.»

A bishop must be like a good father, the Pope writes, not leaving his diocese for longer than a month and being present at important occasions in the life of its faithful.

Celibacy is an important element in the life of a priest and bishop, says the Pope. He reiterates Paul VI’s 1967 «Sacerdotalis Caelibatus» (see Nos. 19-34) three theological reasons for celibacy: Christological, because Christ was celibate; ecclesiological, in imitation of the virginal love of Christ for the Church; and eschatological, as the priest announces the end of time in which «there is neither husband nor wife» (Matthew 22:30).

Addressing the argument that celibacy increases a priest’s sense of solitude the Pope says, «Based on my experience, I decisively reject such an argument. Personally, I have never felt alone. Besides the awareness of the closeness of the Lord, humanly, I have always had many people near me, I have cultivated many cordial contacts with priests — prefect, pastors, parish vicars — and with lay people of every category.»

The Pope also reserves a special word for priests who have left the priesthood, saying, «They, too, have a right to a place in the heart of a father.»

«Their dramas reveal, at times, the negligence of priestly formation, of which — when there is need of it — a courageous fraternal admonition is part, as well as an openness, on the part of the priest, to receive such an admonition,» the Pope writes.

John Paul II has warm words of praise for two of his Vatican advisers: Cardinal Carlo Martini, retired archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

He also applauds several of the Church’s lay movements, «in which I felt the breath of the Holy Spirit»: Neocatechumenates, Opus Dei, Focolare, and Communion and Liberation.

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at

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